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You're late for work because the dog ate your alarm clock - again?

And your commute always takes longer than you expect because your car door keeps falling off ?

Managers hear some real head-scratcher explanations from tardy employees - but they're hearing fewer now, as workers increasingly get to work on time, according to a new survey by job site CareerBuilder.com.

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Sixteen per cent of more than 5,200 employees surveyed admitted arriving late to work at least once a week. That was down from 20 per cent in a similar poll in 2009 and reversed a trend: Last year's figure was up from 15 per cent in a 2008 poll.

Fear of losing a job in a tight market is one major factor spurring employees to be more punctual, says Rosemary Haefner, vice-president of human resources for CareerBuilder in Chicago.

"Workers are expected to do more, and work loads are piling up. Those who don't get in on time can find themselves staying later at night."

Another indicator employees are trying harder to be prompt: Repeat offences are down, she says. The 8 per cent of respondents who said they are late two or more times a week is down from 12 per cent last year.

As much as employees are anxious about jobs, employers are also cracking down on tardiness to raise productivity in pared-down work forces, says workplace performance specialist David Dial, president of Dial Solutions Group in Calgary.

The CareerBuilder survey found that 20 per cent of U.S. managers said they have become stricter about enforcing on-time policies this year and 34 per cent said at least one employee in their organization had been disciplined in the past year for being chronically late.

"Tardiness is a squeaky wheel that is easy to notice and should be dealt with promptly and consistently," Mr. Dial says. "When employees see one person coming in late regularly, they think everyone can do it, too, and it goes right through the culture of the organization and can lead to more absenteeism and lower morale."

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In the past, many white-collar managers showed more leniency toward late arrivals than those in industrial and service jobs, where, if a worker wasn't in, production couldn't get started. "But this year, we've had more requests for help on attendance issues from white-collar employers," Mr. Dial says.

In the past month alone, he says, two big employers in Calgary asked him to help them set up policies to enforce employee promptness.

Mr. Dial says he advises managers to write and enforce a three-strikes policy. A worker who is coming in late regularly first gets a verbal warning from the manager. The second offence is a written notice, and the third time should prompt a visit to human resources and a threat of discipline if there is no improvement.

If tardiness is chronic, he suggests that managers have a sit-down and discuss whether there are underlying issues behind a worker's inability to show up on time.

"If someone is an hour late there better be a good reason, and these days with cell phones there are no excuses about showing up late without letting the office know in advance," he says.

The reasons behind chronic lateness may be deep-seated, says Diana DeLonzor, San Francisco-based time-management expert and author of Never Be Late Again .

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"Most chronically late people have been late all their life, and they are late for every type of activity - good or bad," she says.

She says she has found most people who have problems being prompt fall into one of two categories.

One she calls "the deadliner," who enjoys the rush of reaching the finish line at the last possible moment.

The other she labels "the producer," who gets a charge out of getting as much done in as little time as possible and will assume that if they once made their commute in record time, they should always be able to do it in that same time. "They conveniently forget the many other times when things take much longer."

For chronically tardy people to change such deep-seated behaviours requires commitment, she says. "It's not enough that they set their alarm clock 15 minutes early. They have to plan reasonable time expectations into their days."

She recommends for instance, that chronically late people start to make it a point to arrive early. "If you have 15 minutes to wait before starting work or a meeting, look at it as free time where you can relax," she says. "And no one expects excuses if you arrive early."

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EMPLOYEES: ANTI-TARDINESS TIPS

Recognize the problem The chronically late have done it for so long, they first need to accept it's a problem.

Commit to change Vow to make promptness a priority every day. Aim to be on time every day for at least a month.

Relearn how to tell time Late people tend to underestimate the amount of time their activities take by 25 per cent to 30 per cent. Write down all activities and clock how long they actually take.

Plan to arrive early Punctual people build in extra transit time for unexpected delays. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to work.

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Write a daily plan Make a written schedule each morning of daily activities, with estimated start and end times next to each. A written plan helps you to see what you do and do not have time for.

Prepare in advance Get ready for work the night before. Select your clothes and gather everything you'll need to take to work. Identify items that get frequently lost, such as keys, homework, shoes and glasses; specify a designated place where those items are always stored.

Source: Time-management expert Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again

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MANAGERS: DEALING WITH THE TARDY

Be consistent When late arrivals are excused, on-time rules hold limited value. Inform all employees they are to be not only present but actually working at the set start time.

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Clarify expectations Explain why being late affects not only individuals but the success of the team and organization.

Set a policy and enforce it Mr. Dial recommends a three strikes policy: The first late incident prompts a warning, the second a sit-down and the third a threat of disciplinary action.

Consider flexibility For otherwise good employees who can't make it to work at a certain time, an adjustment to arrival times to better fit their schedule might help them get in on time.

Look for deeper issues Track their most frequent excuses for tardiness and discuss how to eliminate them.

Use peer pressure Getting the team to use powers of persuasion on latecomers can reinforce on-time behaviour.

Source: Productivity specialist David Dial

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EXCUSES, EXCUSES

Top reasons given for being late: 32 per cent traffic

24 per cent lack of sleep

7 per cent day care/getting kids ready for school

7 per cent bad weather

Source: CareerBuilder.com survey

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YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT … BUT

Outrageous excuses managers have heard:

I got mugged and was tied to the steering wheel of my car.

My deodorant was frozen to the window sill.

My car door fell off.

It was too windy.

I dreamt I was already at work.

I had to go to the hospital because I drank antifreeze.

I had an early morning gig as a clown.

A roach crawled in my ear.

I saw an elderly lady at a bus stop and decided to pick her up.

My dog swallowed my cellphone.

Source: CareerBuilder.com survey

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